Tales from the brain tumour lab #2 28/11/17

The Brain Tumour Lab, located within the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre, is dedicated to discovering new ways to treat brain cancer that will improve upon existing treatment and lead to an increase in survival rates and a better quality of life for children diagnosed with brain cancer.  This is a goal shared by many highly skilled brain cancer research labs around the world and collaborating with our international colleagues is the best way forward to make this goal a reality.  Dr Michael Taylor is a paediatric neurosurgeon at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Canada.  His lab focuses on gaining an in-depth understanding of all malignant brain cancers in order that new treatment regimens can be designed for these diseases.   Hilary Hii, one of the senior research assistants in the Brain Tumour Lab was recently given the privilege of visiting Dr Taylor’s lab in order to be trained in two cutting edge techniques that will equip us with additional skills to robustly and accurately test potential new therapies in the preclinical setting.

This collaboration was funded by The Adventurers through their Global Collaboration Fund and would not have been possible without their financial support and their desire to see brain cancer research labs working together to bring about an end to this disease that impacts children and families across the world.

Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain cancer in children and a major focus of our team.  Current treatment for medulloblastoma involves brain surgery and multiple courses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.  Sadly, overall survival rates are unchanged over recent decades and there are adverse and long-term side effects associated with this treatment.   Future clinical trials are essential to test new ways to treat medulloblastoma that are associated with less adverse side-effects and that will increase overall survival rates for patients.

The Brain Tumour Lab evaluates new therapies through preclinical testing and ideally, all preclinical models should have a high degree of fidelity to what occurs in the clinical setting.  Therefore, we want to be able to model all three aspects of treatment – surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.  We have done expansive work in testing the effectiveness of combining new drugs with conventional chemotherapy and we have also introduced radiotherapy into our models through the X-RAD SmART system which enables targeted delivery of radiation.  Funds raised by The Adventurers contributed to the procurement of the X-RAD SmART system which is the only equipment of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

SickKids Hospital also have an X-RAD system which the Taylor lab use to model radiotherapy to the brain and spinal cord (collectively termed craniospinal radiation).  Drs Raelene Endersby, Nick Gottardo and Michael Taylor initiated a collaboration between our two teams and as a result Hilary was able to visit their lab to be trained in this craniospinal radiation protocol which involves generating x-ray images of our model of the brain and spine.  These images are then used to precisely deliver radiation to our target which are models of the brain and spinal cord.  This procedure has been developed to accurately represent the radiotherapy regimen that patients receive following surgery.

In addition to this, Hilary was also trained in a preclinical surgical technique, designed by Dr Taylor himself.  Up until this point in our studies, we did not have a treatment model that reflected the surgery that patients receive to have their tumours removed.  Hilary was able to learn Dr Taylor’s protocol which he designed to mimic the brain surgery that patients receive upon diagnosis, before commencing radiotherapy and chemotherapy.  As a result of this visit, the Brain Tumour Lab is now equipped to recreate neurosurgery, craniospinal radiotherapy and chemotherapy in the preclinical setting.

If we are able to design a preclinical testing platform that mirrors as many aspects of clinical treatment as possible, then we have a stronger chance of isolating new drugs that will perform well in future clinical trials.  Due to this collaboration between Perth and Toronto, we are able to continue our studies in a more realistic preclinical setting.  Therefore, any drugs that yield positive outcomes from this pipeline have the best chance of succeeding in future clinical trials.